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Was the wait for Kabila’s speech whorth its while?

On 23 October 2013, DRC President Kabila made an hour-long speech to both houses of Parliament, diplomats and anyone who is someone. The much-awaited speech came following a national dialogue held a month ago and meant to make recommendations to, as it were, reboot the country.

Main changes

Amongst key changes announced by Kabila is the impending formation of a new government termed “national cohesion executive”. It will incorporate members of the opposition and the civil society into what was until now the preserve of the regime.

Further, a committee tasked with following up the implementation of the 674 recommendations stemming from the dialogue is also expected to be put in place. The body will start off with a one-year term of office which is likely to be extended, depending on how rapidly it operationalises these recommendations.

Other salient points include the repatriation of former Mobutu’s remains from the dictator’s Moroccan grave and those of independence-time dissident Prime Minister Moise Tshombe from Algiers.

Reference was also made to Congolese citizens standing trial at ICC with thinly-veiled allusion to Jean-Pierre Bemba. Kabila tasked the yet-to-be-formed executive to follow up their cases. Does that mean a genuine interest from Kabila to see Bemba released or is this merely a bone he threw to MLC, Bemba’s political party?

Hours before the speech was delivered, Kabila signed a decree granting presidential pardon a certain number of political and military inmates. These measures, he said, would help cement national cohesion.

To restore credibility to elections and ensure democracy is further entrenched, Kabila stressed that a population census (last held in the country in 1984) would have to be conducted and left-over local and as would municipal elections from previous electoral cycle.

On the M23 crisis prevailing in eastern DRC, Kabila lamented the lack of tangible progress of the Kampala talks and warned that failure of a political settlement will leave the DRC no choice but the military avenue. He nevertheless said he remained open to any constructive negotiations that could give peace a chance, as long as these did not rewarded gross human-rights abusers in M23 with amnesty and impunity.

What’s next?

It seems as though every time Kabila makes a makes speech, more questions are raised; innumerable grey areas are painted than are expected answers.

What does a government of national cohesion mean? An executive led by a political figure from the opposition or sharing significant number of ministerial seats with the opposition while maintaining the premiership? Would that mean that the parliament majority (which constitutionally should dictate the choice of a prime minister) revisited?  How? How in that case would the classical democratic rules apply? How does the civil society fit into the executive, a political body of the highest order? And which civil society is this about, in a country with a level of civil society politicisation seldom seen elsewhere?

What about the military option to end the M23 crisis while it is an open secret that DRC has yet to endow itself with a professional, well paid and equipped military? And how does this bellicose narrative sit with the rationale behind the Peace, Security, and Cooperation Framework agreement which advocated for a non-military settlement of the crisis?

These questions lead to another more pressing one. What becomes of Kabila when second and LAST term of office lapses in 2016?

Answers to most of these questions would require one to square the circle.

But the knowns of the equation at the moment are few in numbers. The national cohesion government Kabila has heralded could only be interpreted as a power-sharing dispensation that de facto ushers in a new transitional political order. The aim of that political order would be twofold: (i) lastingly disrupt the democratic process that started entrenching in the country at all levels, replacing by a consensual mode of governance  which would (ii) sail Kabila past 2016 as still president of the DRC.

This can be substantiated by the fact that holding the census, completing the remaining local elections, and militarily overcoming M23 are, each, tasks that can hardly be achieved by 2016.

In other words, the national dialogue, the resulting recommendations and the implications of today’s speech all converge to one target: no prospects for a better managed, peaceful and prosperous DRC.

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